CNA Newsroom, Feb 8, 2023 / 20:52 pm (CNA).
Two women have accused Frank Pavone — national director of the pro-life organization Priests for Life, who was dismissed from the priesthood in November — of sexual harassment, according to recent media reports.
The Pillar last month published allegations by an unnamed woman who claimed Pavone stroked her hair, put his arms around her while she sat at her computer, and engaged in other “grooming” behavior while she worked at Priests for Life.
In a second story published Wednesday, The Pillar quoted, by name, another former Priest for Life employee who makes similar claims against Pavone. Both women said they complained to the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, where Pavone was incardinated before his laicization, but neither ever heard if any action was taken.
Pavone has denied both sets of allegations, saying in a statement to CNA Wednesday that the accusations are filled with “numerous inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and mistruths, that have already been addressed.”
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Amarillo has remained silent about the women’s accounts, leaving numerous questions unanswered about not only Pavone’s alleged misconduct but how the diocese has handled sexual harassment allegations in the past where both parties were adults.
One question is why Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek issued a letter in 2014 attesting that Pavone was a priest in “good standing” who “had never been suspended,” even though Zurek had suspended Pavone for disobedience in 2011. Pavone shared the letter, along with a similar one written on his behalf in 2010, with CNA and other news outlets.
Zurek’s 2014 letter, addressed to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, granted Pavone temporary permission to exercise his priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of New York. The letter states that Pavone had “[n]ever been involved in an incident which called into question his fitness or suitability to fulfill the responsibilities and duties of his priestly ministry due to alcohol, substance abuse, violation of celibacy, physical abuse, or other causes.”
CNA broke the news of Pavone’s laicization in December after obtaining a letter from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, sent to U.S. bishops. The nuncio cited Pavone’s “blasphemous communications on social media” and “persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop,” without providing any specific details.
In the time since his laicization was made public, Pavone has vigorously asserted that he has for years been “persecuted” by the Church hierarchy for being “too aggressive” in his pro-life advocacy.
In recent weeks, allegations of sexual harassment have added another dimension to accounts of Pavone’s rocky tenure in Amarillo. In a statement to The Pillar, Pavone confirmed that the allegations cited in the news outlet’s reporting were brought to the diocese’s attention and investigated.
In The Pillar’s most recent report, Mary Worthington, who was hired by Priests for Life in 2004 as a recent college graduate, alleges that Pavone repeatedly sexually harassed her until she finally quit in 2006.
Before long, she told The Pillar, “[Pavone] started on the flirty-flirty touching, paying way too much attention to me, touching my hair, or stroking my back. He’d reach around me to type emails, leaning over me, on top of [my arms] — and it was continuous. It was just creepy.”
She quit, she said, after an incident in which she alleges Pavone “had me backed up against a wall, and was stroking my hair, and stroking my shoulder.”
She added: “I wonder why I didn’t knee him in the groin.”
Worthington said she brought her accusations to the Diocese of Amarillo in 2009. She told The Pillar that “a deacon in the diocese” contacted her and told her that she “was of age, and that was pretty much it.”
CNA was unable to reach Worthington for comment Wednesday.
The Diocese of Amarillo has not responded to CNA’s repeated requests for comment.
Pavone issued a statement about the allegations Wednesday.
“I am enormously saddened by recent efforts of some to revisit old accusations that contain numerous inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and mistruths, that have already been addressed,” Pavone said.
“Over a decade ago, my bishop at that time thoroughly investigated these claims and confirmed that I was in good standing and fully suitable for ministry,” he continued.
“Throughout the past 34 years of my service, it has always been my intent to treat every person with respect, integrity, and professionalism. Of course, I’m sure there have been times in my life where I’ve somehow missed the mark and unintentionally made someone feel uncomfortable. I’m sorry to anyone who might have ever taken offense in such moments, and I have always faithfully served the priesthood,” Pavone said.
“I remain focused on the enormously vital work of Priests for Life,” he concluded. “As always, we remain steadfast in our mission to expand and protect the sanctity and gift of life. We are saving lives and making significant gains in our unstoppable efforts to make abortion unthinkable.”
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